Rock Climbing and Hiking at Summersville Lake in the New River Gorge

Photo credits to Lindsay Resler (@lindsii_) and Tolin Hessell (@mrtolin). Check out Tolin’s Etsy store for awesome t-shirts and designs. 

We left Wisconsin on a chilly Thursday night in mid-May. Planning to arrive in West Virginia by late Friday afternoon, we’d meet up with friends to spend the weekend hiking and climbing in the wider area surrounding the New River Gorge.

We drove until late the first night, stopping to sleep in a quiet Cabela’s parking lot. In the morning we continued on, finally arriving in Fayetteville, WV around 5 PM.

Prior to leaving, we booked a cabin at Cantrell Ultimate Rafting. The building looked astonishingly small and bare, but for a group of professional adventurers, it was nothing out of the ordinary. As the rest of the team arrived, we crammed 7 adults and 3 dogs inside and before heading to bed, exhausted from the long drive.

Cantrell Rafting Amish Cabin
Tiny Cabin at Cantrell Ultimate Rafting. Photo by @mrtolin

The next morning, alarms chirped us back to life by 6 am. Dogs got walked, coffee was made and we moved out the door, stopping at Cathedral Cafe & Book Store to grab some breakfast for the drive.

We aimed our sights on a popular climbing area just outside of New River Gorge proper, called Summersville Lake.

The Hike

Hiking to Summersville Lake
Hiking to Summersville Lake. Photo by @mrtolin

The 1.2-mile hike to the Summersville Lake climbing area was poorly marked, and the best instructions found online include gems like ‘continue this way for a while‘ and ‘Stay on this trail past the stove and other kitchen appliances‘. Luckily, the guide book included a few tips, and we only got lost once.

Adventure dogs Riley and Carson joined us for the hike, disregarding warnings of a ladder not suitable for dogs along the way. Carson went down, carried like a baby, but Riley — being the smartest in our group — decided he would not be carried down. Andrew and Riley embarked on a mission to find a way around.

The rest of the group continued on for another quarter mile before settling on a place to climb.

Here, only a thin strip of land separated a cliff face on our left from the clear and cool lake on our right, which became increasingly inviting as the day got hotter.

While we awaited word from Andrew, I rewarded Carson for his ladder bravery with his first ever swim.

Swimming at Summersville Lake
Carson swims for the first time. Photo by @mrtolin

After about 30 minutes, Andrew called to announce that the fabled way around was so little used that he could no longer see the trail. Both dogs were returned to the cabin, and Andrew joined us back at the rock wall to relax in the sun.

The Climbing

May is peak season for climbing in the NRG, but even on a beautiful Saturday it wasn’t too crowded, and there were many epic climbs to be had.

The group decided to climb around Orange Oswald — one of the most popular climbing walls along the lake. Known for moderately difficult climbs and reliable holds, it accommodates several different skill levels and was a great place to set up a base of operations.

Still recovering from a back injury, I managed only the hike and opted to spectate. In the heat of the day, I inflated my sleeping pad and incited a spontaneous pool party complete with frisbee and booze.

Swimming at Summersville Lake
@kflood123 is jealous of my awesome raft and considers the pros and cons of tipping me over. Photo by @mrtolin

Spending time with this group reminds me of the ways that I want to be a better person.

As this anonymous quote I found on the internet goes:

“Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious.”

Later, I strung up my hammock to relax with Andrew. The perfect weather and quiet breeze made an afternoon nap inevitable.

Hammock at Summersville Lake
Pre-nap. Photo by @lindsii_

As the light turned golden we made our way back to the cabin, narrowly avoiding an afternoon thunderstorm.  We drank whiskey and told stories until we couldn’t stay awake any longer.

Summersville Lake
Hiking out at sunset. Photo by @lindsii_

The Town

The next morning we took our time getting up. Stiff joints and sore legs were prevalent, but hunger drew us out of bed.

We again made our way to Cathedral Cafe. This time sitting to enjoy a long breakfast and bulletproof coffee. We talked about our lives and made fragile plans for another meet up sooner rather than later.

After, we explored the town — stopping in at Water Stone Outdoors to pine over gear we can’t afford. Then a short drive to the famous New River Gorge Bridge overlook.

New River Gorge Bridge Overlook
New River Gorge Bridge Overlook. Photo by @lindsii_

Back at the cabin, we lazily packed our belongings and began parting ways.

We said goodbye and started the long ride back to Wisconsin. The dogs, tired from adventure and travel, enjoyed the opportunity for a very long nap in the air conditioned car.

4Runner Road Trip
Two tired poopers. Photo by me! @ashlilauryn

This time we didn’t stop to sleep and instead drove 12-hours straight through to home.

How many hours would you drive for a day and half of adventure?

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